Wednesday’s Rugby News looks at a Super Rugby AU draw change, the new Waratahs halfback, a boost for players at the World Cup and Stan’s modern solution to an old problem.
Rugby Australia has confirmed a change to the Super Rugby AU draw, with the Rebels and Brumbies swapping home fixtures.
This is as a result of the restrictions put in place by the WA Government on travellers from Melbourne, with the Force set to play the Rebels in round four.
Therefore, Round three’s clash between the two sides will now be played at GIO Stadium in Canberra on Saturday 6 March at 7.45 pm, with the reverse fixture between the two sides at AAMI Park in Melbourne in Round nine on Sunday 18th April at 2 pm.
The Rebels are currently based in Canberra as a result of the restrictions, with the change of fixture meaning that they will spend an extra fortnight in the nation’s capital.
“I want to thank Phil (Thomson) and the Brumbies, the Rugby Australia Return to Play Committee and our broadcast partners in Nine and Stan for their flexibility and support over the last few weeks,” Rebels chief executive Baden Stephenson said in a statement.
“We can’t wait to get back to Melbourne for our home game against the Waratahs in Round Five and play in front of the Rebels faithful at the Stockade.
“I also want to acknowledge our partners, and the Rebels players, staff and families for their continual sacrifice and tireless efforts for the benefit of the competition as a whole.”
Given the club was forced to relocate for the 2020 edition of the tournament, Rebels coach Dave Wessels praised the continual sacrifice that his players and their families had made to ensure that the comp could go ahead.
“I would like to echo Baden’s comments and pay special tribute to the families and friends of the Rebels playing group,” Wessels said.
“They sacrificed so much last year and we’re very grateful for their love and support. We can’t wait to get home and play in front of you over the back half of the season.”
World Cup boost
Rugby World Cup officials has confirmed that there will be a mandatory five day rest period between group stage games for the 2023 tournament, along with an increase in squad sizes as player safety takes centre stage.
The increase will see the group stages go on for a further week than 2019, with the tournament’s kick-off date changed to 8 September, concluding with the final on 28 October.
Permitted squad sizes will also be increased by two from 31 to 33 players, with the organisers putting player safety at the forefront.
“This is a landmark day for Rugby World Cup and the sport. As a rugby father, former player, fan and administrator, player welfare is at the very top of my agenda. This continued focus for a player-first decision reflects that commitment,” World Rugby Chairman Sir Bill Beaumont said.
“Men’s Rugby World Cup schedules are difficult to balance owing to the format of four pools of five teams. Japan 2019 provided the best balance and best-ever welfare outcomes, but we still had a limited number of relatively short rest periods between some matches.
“In collaboration with France 2023 and International Rugby Players, this decision means that every player and every team will have a fairer chance to perform to their potential in every fixture, and now we will work with the teams to reduce overall load for players. Including travel.
“On behalf of World Rugby and the France 2023 organising committee I would like to thank the host cities and venues, unions and players for embracing this opportunity. Together, I am convinced that we will deliver an amazing and indeed historic Rugby World Cup in what will be the 200th year of our sport.”
International Rugby Players representative on the Rugby World Cup Board Brian O’Driscoll added: “The game has become too physical and competitive for short turnarounds. All teams have found it tough, particularly those without the squad depth of the major nations.
“This is a positive step forward for the game and further demonstration of how International Rugby Players and World Rugby can work together towards better outcomes”.
Not by design
NSW Waratahs coach Rob Penney has praised the inspirational story of halfback Jack Grant as the part-time designer prepares to step up and fill the void left by injured captain Jake Gordon.
Gordon limped off during their 41-7 loss to the Reds in the opening round of the Super Rugby AU season, with scans confirming a syndesmosis injury that will keep him out for eight weeks.
This has put the son of former Wallaby and Balmain Tiger James Grant in line for a starting spot, a remarkable achievement given his rapid development.
After stints in the NRC and Japan, the 27-year-old was handed a Super Rugby contract after years of strong showings for Easts in the Shute Shield, leading the try-scorers list in 2019.
This comes as Grant juggled rugby commitments alongside his lifestyle brand North Bondi Motorino, which started out as a ‘social club for a group of mates who had just got bike licences’ according to their website.
“Jack’s one of the real success stories of a young guy who has persevered and stayed in a really good club environment and worked his way through and is really reaping the rewards of it,” Penney told Sporting News/myself.
“He’s not only a very mature player so we have no issues with his decision-making around the game but also a great athlete. He’s quick, got a lovely pass and he has a good kicking game, all the things you need in a halfback.
“It’s a great credit to his perseverance that he’s been now able to get an opportunity to get amongst it.”
His starting debut will be a difficult match-up as the Waratahs head to the ACT to face the defending premiers Brumbies, who opened their campaign with a 27-11 win over the Western Force in Perth.
“I think they have gone up another level than last year,” Penney said on the Brumbies.
“They wouldn’t have been totally happy with their performance but it’s a long way to go to travel and that takes it out of you.
“I thought they were a few degrees hotter than they were last year so they will be really challenging.”
Stan’s launch over the past week has been deemed a resounding success, however, it has come with one problem.
Patrons and pubs and clubs were blacked out from watching the Brumbies v Force game as a result of a late disagreement with Stan Sport and Sky Channel to host the broadcast, leaving certain News Corps figures giddy.
This came as a result of the deal being done without the backing of a major Tabcorp official and the fear that Peter V’landys would hunt them down for daring to show another rugby code.
Well not exactly, it more had to do with them potentially limiting waging by turning off the Friday dogs/trots feed since he’s the boss of Racing NSW, as well as not being able to rely on Optus/Foxtel satellites due to a lack of coverage and care respectively.
This has caused them to think outside the box, with The Herald revealing that they will look at streaming the games through pubs via smart TVs if they can’t get a deal done before the NZ comp.
Whilst RA was confident that a deal could still be done, Herald/Stan officials were not as confident, leading to them coming up with the idea of broadcasting through smart televisions, Apple TV, Chromecast, Telstra TV or any other device which hosts the Stan app.
This would likely be unavailable for the second round of the competition, although could be pursued by the broadcaster, who finds it ‘an attractive option’.
Aside from this, all was well in the Nine/RA relationship, with the director of sport Brent Williams admitting that the initial figures, which was close to 200k, exceeded initial expectations.
“Friday night’s launch of Rugby on both Stan Sport and 9Gem was hugely successful, exceeding all expectations,” he said in a press release.
“We look forward to growing on this strong base as we continue to work closely with Rugby Australia, the teams and players to build our coverage throughout the season.”
It was a great start to our new partnership with Nine and Stan Sport and a special thanks must go to Hugh (Marks), Mike (Sneesby) and their broader team,” RA CEO Andy Marinos added.
“The community response has been overwhelming. People have been telling me how much they loved the new look and feel of the broadcast, the accessibility of the games as well as the quality on display.
“This is just the beginning though and we look forward to growing with Nine and Stan throughout the Harvey Norman Super Rugby AU season.”